By Elena Cresci
A Disturbed Girl’s Guide to Curing Boredom is the debut offering from author James Howell. Touted on the official website as “a harrowing, savage and sexual exploration of a broken mind”, this thriller explores the world of a girl willing to go to extreme lengths to appease the boredom of her life. With her job as a regional reporter providing nothing but tedium for our ‘disturbed’ protagonist, Hannah’s attempts to appease her boredom lead her down a twisted path as her sanity quickly slips away.
It has to be said, Hannah has some novel tips to cure boredom. Slow day in your news patch? Why not surreptitiously make some news for yourself? Need to move on to something bigger, and better? Why not trick a footballer into giving you the perfect scoop? And when the UK gets just a little bit too dull… take things abroad, befriending mobsters and terrorists along the way.
Evidently we’re not talking about the sane person’s cure to boredom, something the author makes clear from the very beginning. There were numerous ways Howell could have taken his ‘boredom’ motif. You would be mistaken in thinking that Hannah’s boredom is some sort of wider reaching commentary on the monotonous workings of western society; Hannah’s ‘solutions’ to her boredom pretty much cause chaos for chaos’ sake. The initial catalysts for her later deeds actually, if you squint a little, seem almost realistic and, from Hannah’s warped perspective, almost reasonable. Yet as she goes further and further along her downward spiral, everything seems blown out of any believable perspective.
However, no matter how unrealistic you may find certain parts of the novel, for me, it was difficult to put down. There’s a certain amount of schadenfreude to be had while following Hannah’s trail of destruction, because, quite frankly, I wasn’t quite sure what she was going to do next. This is possibly one of the main strengths of the novel; predictable, it is not. Despite this, I couldn’t help but take issue with certain aspects of the novel, particularly the self-insertion of the author into the story.
Howell places himself as the relayer of Hannah’s story, a man desperately in love with the protagonist despite her apparent insanity. In this sense, Howell is not the author of the story, rather he is the transcriber of Hannah’s narrative. This was something I just couldn’t get to grips with. Quite frankly, it seems somewhat pointless and redundant to have the author a part of the story itself; it’s a role which could have been played by a created character. The intention, I would assume, is to enhance the realism of the story, but a certain degree of suspension of disbelief is definitely required in the later stages of the novel.
Which is frustrating when there are some brilliant insights into the world of a regional reporter at times. Presumably as Howell was a journalist himself, he often provides cutting commentary on journalism, without alienating readers who have no interest in this subject. For me, the most interesting part of the novel was the whole idea of a reporter creating their own stories, rather than waiting for something to happen. Yet when Hannah’s stirring is taken to an elevated level, I found myself losing this morbid curiosity and finding some of her more international exploits somewhat ridiculous. It would have been interesting to see where Howell could have taken Hannah had she remained making trouble in her news patch.
The core idea of the novel is a good one, but its execution falls apart somewhat. Saying this, I wouldn’t necessarily say this should deter potential readers. After all, sometimes a good thriller is just what you need to pass the time. A Disturbed Girl’s Guide to Curing Boredom is by no means a classic of its genre, neither is it anything groundbreaking, but for any thrill-seekers out there, it could be the perfect holiday read.
6 OUT OF 10